Cards hope to avoid third straight loss

Which Louisville (5-4, 1-3) team will show up against #22 Cincinnati? The team that played well in all three phases in a 24-20 win over USF three weeks ago? Or the one that has dropped back-to-back games since downing the Bulls, including a lopsided 41-7 decision last week against Pittsburgh?

Last Saturday afternoon, Pittsburgh ended a seven-game losing streak against Louisville with a 41-7 win over the Cardinals at Heinz Field.

Friday night, No. 22 Cincinnati hopes to end a five-game losing skid to the Cardinals that included a 28-24 upset loss last season at Nippert Stadium.

Louisville hopes to avoid its first three-game losing streak since Ron Cooper's final season in 1997. The Cardinals lost two games in a row twice last season.

The Bearcats certainly have the momentum heading into the contest. Cincinnati has won 6 of their last 7 games, including the last two – a 24-10 win over USF two weeks ago and last week's 26-23 OT win over West Virginia – and finds itself atop the Big East standings with West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

Louisville, on the other hand, limps into the contest with back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Pitt – the latter a lopsided affair in which the Cardinals committed five turnovers and didn't run one offensive play inside the ‘red-zone.'

"We've got a big-time opponent coming here and a team that is playing well right now," said UofL coach Steve Kragthorpe. "I still feel good about this team. I feel good about our chances for this game. Obviously because of the way that we've played the last two weeks we're not in the Big East race mathematically. But there's still a lot of season to play for. We want to take our team to a bowl game. We want to win these last three games of the season. And in order to win the last three games we have to win the first one against Cincinnati."

Steve Kragthorpe hopes to rally the troops
against Cincy and avoid Louisville's first
three-game losing skid since 1997.

Riding high after a win over USF last month had Louisville standing at 5-2, two straight losses to Syracuse and Pittsburgh has taken some of the wind of the Cardinals sails.

"We're going to fight. I'm convinced that this team is comprised of fighters and I like their attitude," Kragtorpe said. "On the sideline you can see that – you can see the look in their eyes that they're trying to make plays. They're frustrated but they're frustrated in a good way because they want to play well. This team is going to fight for the next three weeks and hopefully that (translates) into us winning football games and putting this team in a bowl game. Obviously that's our goal."

While that may be an improbable goal – the Cardinals have never won three straight Big East games under Kragthorpe, who owns a 4-7 record in conference play – junior defensive lineman L.D. Scott said the team wants to send seniors like Eric Wood, Earl Heyman and Adrian Grady out as winners.

"I would say we're playing for a lot," Scott said. "I want to send the seniors out the way they came in – winning bowl games and having fun out there."

It's not going to be easy with Cincinnati standing the in way, especially with junior quarterback Tony Pike leading the way. In five starts this season, Pike, who stepped in at quarterback after Dustin Grutza went down with injury, has thrown for 1,229 yards and 10 touchdowns with just three interceptions.

"Pike looks like he's back and healthy and will start again," Kragthorpe said. "They're doing a nice job throwing the ball to an excellent group of receivers and they're running the ball well."

"Their quarterback is a pretty tough guy playing with the cast he has," Scott said of Pike, who broke his arm earlier this season. "He's got a lot of heart."

Pike has completed 60 percent of his passes and he has several talented weapons to throw the ball to. Though Domnick Goodman leads the Bearcats with 54 receptions for 668 yards and five touchdowns, Matry Gillard is the leader in receiving yards [685] and touchdowns [7].

"They've got some explosive players," Scott said. "It's going to be a tough challenge to slow them down."

Not known as a strong running team under Brian Kelly, the Bearcats average just 120 yards rushing per game – seventh in the Big East. Last week, Louisville held Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy to a career-low 39 yards.

"We're mostly concentrating on their quarterback because he's what makes them go," Scott said. "We've got to stop the run and get to the quarterback."

On the other side, Cincinnati's defense will face a Louisville offense that has struggled the past two weeks in losses to Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Against the Panthers, the Cardinals gained just 299 yards, while quarterbacks Hunter Cantwell and Matt Simms both threw interceptions. Louisville rushed for only 96 yards against the Panthers and was stopped on a key 4 and 1 in the second half trailing 20-7 that ended any comeback hope.

"On the defensive side, the thing that they're not doing is giving up big plays," Kragthorpe said. "They make people drive the ball and they've got a good secondary. I think they're two corners are about as good as there are in the country."

The Bearcats are fast and athletic on defense. They're led by defensive tackle Terrill Byrd and cornerback Mike Mickens. Mickens leads the team in tackles and has made three of Cincinnati's 12 interceptions. That's not a good sign for Louisville as Cantwell has thrown 11 picks this season and at least one interception in each of the Cardinals last six games.

"I think they've got a very good defense," Kragthorpe said. "Byrd is a really good defensive lineman. They've got a good set of linebackers. They're experienced with 10 of 11 starters being seniors on the defensive side of the football."

Turnovers could prove the decisive factor in the game's outcome. A favorite last year, Cincinnati was upset at home by Louisville primarily because they committed four turnovers. Louisville committed five turnovers last week against Pittsburgh and is 0-4 this season when they've committed more turnovers than their opponent. On what could be a cold, wet night at PJCS, the team that protects the ball best could walk away holding the Keg of the Nails.

"We talk about it every day in terms of making sure we're taking good care of the football and," Kragthorpe said. "The biggest thing is we just continue to talk about it every day – secure the ball, make sure we have possession of the football. We have to emphasize that we're concentrating on the fundamental details before anything else."

NOTE The Dare to Care's Thanksgiving Drive is scheduled for Friday November 14 vs the University of Cincinnati at 8:00 p.m. at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

Dare to Care volunteers will be at the game accepting non-perishable food items or monetary donations which will assist them in tackling hunger in the Louisville Metro area for the Thanksgving holiday.

Fans are encouraged to bring items and drop them off in the Dare to Care barrels located at the gates of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.


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